CCL/ESCC notes: IC Catholic adjusting to life in megaconference

Knights start 3-0 in conference play

IC Catholic's Aaron Harvey runs the ball for a gain against Nazareth on Friday, Sept.15,2023 in Elmhurst.

IC Catholic has shown that it can compete with some of the CCL/ESCC’s best during its first three games since joining the megaconference.

The Knights defeated Benet 34-9 to win its opener and survived back-to-back nail-biting games, taking down Nazareth 36-34 in overtime and Marist 28-21 on Friday.

“It’s just a grind,” IC Catholic coach Bill Krefft said. “It’s incredible to see the high-level competition week-in and week-out we’re seeing. I don’t know how we’re doing it.”

Krefft said he’s been impressed with the Knights’ grit and ability to respond to adversity, especially with a roster of 33 facing off against teams that have double if not triple the amount of players. The coach also credited his coaching staff for helping the Knights prepare for different scenarios to win tight games.

But the transition hasn’t come easy. Krefft said the Knights are almost at the point of not surviving the grind physically.

“It’s just difficult for us to be able to match it every week,” Krefft said. “There are such powerhouse programs in this conference that the level of play is so significantly greater than what we’ve been used to that it’s raising our level. We’re getting better and trying our best to compete with these schools, but actually at some point it wears down our program for what our ultimate goal is.”

Along with having a good support staff that helps the Knights recover off the field, Krefft has changed the way IC Catholic practices. The program used to have physical practices on Mondays and Tuesday but has now opted for the opposite to ensure that no key player gets injured. Krefft wants his players to get used to the grind and playing hurt, tired.

He’s also not letting the Knights look ahead. Although IC Catholic is likely guaranteed a spot in the playoffs with its fifth win and strength of schedule, Krefft isn’t letting his players look past St. Francis this Friday as they try to pick up win No. 6 to secure playoff qualification.

“We’re just set on getting six wins to make the playoffs and then we’ll be set on seven wins to get a seed,” Krefft said. “That’s the way we’ll go with it.”

Montini feeling like it’s 2010

Montini has looked like the Broncos of the 2010s so far this season. The program won four state titles and played in three more state title games during that decade.

The Broncos’ 5-0 start is their best since 2018 when they lost in the Class 5A state title game. Montini last qualified for the postseason in 2019, having gone 3-3, 3-6 and 3-6, respectively, in the years following.

Montini coach Mike Bukovsky credited the perfect start to the program finally recovering from the different effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and the players buying into what the coaches taught over the offseason.

“We feel now that we have the formula back,” Bukovsky said. “No. 1 first and foremost is the kids. They deserve the credit, they worked hard.”

The main difference between this season and last year is the Broncos’ ability to win tight games. After out scoring Westinghouse and Hillcrest 100-36 in its first two games, Montini survived a 24-23 game against Nazareth, held off Benet 21-10 and came back to take down Marian Catholic 35-26.

“It’s just a grind. It’s incredible to see the high-level competition week-in and week-out we’re seeing. I don’t know how we’re doing it.”

—  Bill Krefft, IC Catholic coach

Much of the success came from Montini’s offense reaching another level this season. Senior running backs Alex Marre and George Asay have helped lead the way for an offense that averages 36 points per game.

Bukovsky felt like the Broncos got over the hump in order to compete in all three games, battling different types of adversity.

“That’s the difference between where we were last year and where we are this year,” Burkovsky said. “Finding a way to win when things aren’t going great and maybe you’re not playing your best.”

Burkovsky is still looking for consistency as Montini enters the final stretch of the season. The Broncos end the year against Providence, St. Viator, Brother Rice and St. Laurence, respectively, and will try to win a CCL/ESCC White division title.

“I’d like to get out and play a complete game, I’m not sure we’ve done that yet,” Bukovsky said. “That’s still a challenge for us.”

Picking up the Friars’ pace

The reason for Fenwick’s slow offensive starts in five games this season isn’t a mystery to coach Matt Battaglia.

The Friars couldn’t get much going on their first four drives in their win against Niles Notre Dame on Friday before figuring things out toward the end of the second quarter. Fenwick has faced similar situations throughout the season.

“They executed,” Battaglia said. “I think when we watch the film we’re going to see the biggest opponent we had was ourselves on offense. That’s been the story the last couple of weeks – starting slow. I’m just glad we picked it up in the second quarter and not the fourth quarter like last week.”

Figuring out how to start quickly will be important for the Friars as they move into the second half of the season and make their playoff push. Battaglia said Fenwick needs to get it rushing attack going quicker in games so that it opens more things up for the passing game.

Quarterback Marek Hill is confident the Friars can make the needed adjustments.

“It comes down to the fundamentals, getting those jitters out immediately off that first play,” Hill said. “Settling in and just running our offense, running it well. I think we’re going to see more success in those first couple drives.”

Fenwick’s ‘cheat code’

The Friars’ Nathaniel Marshall showed off just how athletic he can be on both sides of the field Friday.

The junior defensive lineman constantly applied pressure on the Niles Notre Dame quarterbacks and running attack. He also made an impressive leaping catch in the endzone as a wideout.

Marshall is a top-rated recruit who holds offers from schools like Alabama, Michigan, Miami, Notre Dame, Ohio State and Penn State.

Battaglia is grateful to coach such a talented player.

“He’s a human cheat code,” Battaglia said. “We’re very blessed to have him here, he’s a very special athlete. I’m just glad to say one day I got to coach him.”

Dons keep fighting

Niles Notre Dame coach Mike Hennessey was proud of the effort he saw from the Dons on Friday despite it being the team’s third straight loss.

“It’s tough when you lose three games in a row,” Hennessey said. “You have to go back to work.”

The Dons have lost to Mount Carmel, Joliet Catholic and Fenwick by an average of 20.3 points per game during the losing streak. Niles Notre Dame kept battling, scoring a touchdown in the final minute of the game and recovering an onside kick.

“The continued effort that I saw,” Hennessey said. “We played 48 minutes, that’s what we came here to do and that’s what you need to do every game. You’re going to have ups and downs within a game, there’s going to be mistakes, but you need to keep coming back.”